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Enduring Negativity

Representations of Albinism in the Novels of Didier Destremau, Patrick Grainville and Williams Sassine

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Charlotte Baker

This study focuses on fictional representations of albinism in the work of the French writers Didier Destremau and Patrick Grainville, and the Francophone Guinean writer Williams Sassine. The focus on selected novels allows for an in-depth study of each narrative and sheds new critical light on these under-studied writers, permitting a comparative discussion of the novels in relation to other writing about albinism. A series of common themes can be found in these novels, which, although present in different combinations and intensities, echo the preoccupations of all fictional writing about albinism. They include a recognition of the problematic relationship between inner and outer reality (in both bodily terms and in relation to notions of inclusion and exclusion), the challenging of accepted categories and designations, and the consequent problematisation of the relationship between Self and Other. Bound up with these issues, of course, are questions of identity and power.

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Introduction Enduring Negativity sets out to draw attention to and explore the por- trayal of the figure of the black African albino, and to bring about a new understanding of the potential of this figure in literary representation. The visibility of people with albinism in sub-Saharan Africa has been manipu- lated into a symbolic otherness by writers, film-makers and artists, aggra- vating the situation of individuals who are already surrounded by a web of beliefs in the form of myths and stereotypes.1 Yet, despite the wealth of representations of albinism, very few critical studies into the portrayal of the figure of the albino have been undertaken. This study explores the dif ferent understandings of albinism communicated by three French and Francophone writers, adopting a comparative, interdisciplinary approach that not only crosses linguistic, regional and national divisions, but which also transcends disciplinary boundaries. Enduring Negativity draws on insights from Anglophone and Francophone literary criticism, as well as on postcolonial studies, anthropological and sociological discussions of the body, and postmodern critical thinking on the body as a discursive construct. My analysis is not only driven by an interest in the cultural specificities elucidated by each of the texts explored, but also by a wish to examine how the dif ferent literary discussions of albinism relate to one another, as well as to contemporary understandings of the condition. The term ‘albinism’ refers to a group of related conditions which are the result of a genetic mutation that causes a deficiency in melanin pro-...

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